The Government needs to do more to tackle discrimination against Muslim women when looking for a job, a hard-hitting report has warned as it raised concern over unemployment in the community being double the national average.
Muslim women spoken to by the Women and Equalities Committee of MPs feared wearing a headscarf “restricted their employment opportunities”, and that dress that the “negative effect of dress” on the result of job interviews and attitudes of co-workers “might be because employers hold stereotypical views of Muslim women”.
Conservative MP Maria Miller, chairwoman of the committee of MPs, which drew up the report, added the Government’s flagship counter-extremism policy is undermining trust within Muslim communities.
Her committee called for targeted support must be introduced to help tackle employment inequalities.
They highlighted the fact that Muslim people face the highest level of unemployment of all religious and ethnic groups at 12.8% compared to 5.4% for the general population.
The report calls on ministers to introduce a coherent cross-Government strategy by the end of 2016 focused on helping specific groups, including Muslims, to run alongside a commitment to tackle disadvantages faced by black and minority ethnic (BME) people.
The report argues that the Government must directly address discrimination in the workplace and do more to support people into work.
It also highlights a need for the Government to work to rebuild trust with Muslim communities after concerns were raised during the committee’s inquiry about integration programmes being linked to counter-extremism.
Miller said that the Prevent strategy, which Theresa May was responsible when she was Home Secretary, was creating tension in Muslim communities. She said:
“The challenges that the Government faces in tackling extremism cannot be under estimated but in the course of this inquiry we came across individual Muslims who were reluctant to speak to us for fear that our inquiry was part of the Prevent programme.
”The Prevent strategy was cited as a significant source of tension by a number of participants.”
The report recommends that such programmes should not be conducted through the lens of counter-extremism but should instead stress how they can improve the life chances of those taking part.
Ms Miller said the report shows there is an “urgent need to make equality of opportunity a reality for people of every faith and background”.
The report places a particular emphasis on the need to address employment discrimination faced by Muslim women.
”We heard evidence that stereotypical views of Muslim women can act as a barrier to work.
”The data suggests that in communities these patterns are shifting across generations but we remain concerned that this shift is happening too slowly and that not all Muslim women are being treated equally.”
The report calls on the Government to introduce a role models and mentoring programme specifically aimed at Muslim women to increase equality and help them realise their potential.
Other recommendations include calling for increased awareness among employers of what constitutes illegal discrimination, urging universities to introduce a dedicated careers advice service for BME students to include the use of role models and mentors, and that Jobcentre Plus staff must be trained to understand the issues faced by Muslim people.
Meanwhile, in areas where there are high levels of Muslim unemployment there should be tailored support schemes put in place and employers should pay close attention to the impact of discrimination and the fear of discrimination in the workplace for Muslim women who wear cultural or religious dress.
A Government spokeswoman said: “The Government is committed to making Britain a country that works for everyone. We want all people, regardless of their faith or gender, to have access to the same opportunities so that they can reach their full potential.
”We are making progress - for example, there are now 45% more Muslim women in work than in 2011 - but we know there is much more to do.
”We will look carefully at the recommendations and respond in due course.”